fun while learning

Ricky Correia, left, and Mason Kinard, from Cousins Middle School in Covington, carry their cardboard boat entry in the armada boat race of the Georgia Technology Student Association conference on Jekyll Island Friday.

More than 1,300 students with a passion for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, brought their talents and energy to the Jekyll Island Convention Center this weekend.

The Georgia Technology Students Association hosted its annual Leadercon event on Jekyll Island. Middle and high school students from more than 150 TSA chapters around Georgia arrived at the conference center Friday for a weekend of STEM competitions, leadership training and hands-on learning.

“The highlights of this conference, I would have to say, are our leadership and technical sessions,” said Alexander King, the Georgia TSA student president. “The students and our members take a lot out of those, because they all have a call to action. They all give you a challenge to go back to your chapter and apply it to something that is meaningful to you.”

And if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing at a TSA conference, said Steve Price, Georgia TSA’s executive director.

“We still think there’s fun ways to learn,” he said. “And that’s what we’re about.”

Students from more than 80 TSA chapters took over the swimming pool at the Villas by the Sea on Friday evening for an Armanda Boat Race. Using no more than cardboard and duct tape, each team strategized how to build a boat that could carry two students as far as possible across the pool.

“They get points for the construction of the boat … and whoever’s boat makes it to the other side in the least amount of time,” said Sylvia Phillips, Georgia’s Career and Technical Student Organizations coordinator. “And there’s a prize for best splash, for the ones who aren’t successful.”

On Saturday, more than 60 teams competed in a Vex Robotics contest. The students built and programmed robots that went up against each other in short, fast-paced competitions.

The top-ranked teams qualified for the state competition.

“Your better teams, they literally eat sleep and breathe it,” said Casey Martin, past president of the Georgia TSA board and an organizer of the Vex competition. “The number of man hours that these kids work is crazy.”

Throughout the weekend, the students also heard from motivational speakers and took part in leadership and skills training sessions that King said prepares them for real-world application.

“We are intra-curricular, meaning that the standards that go into the classroom are integrated within our competitive events,” he said.

Georgia has more than 220 TSA chapters statewide, which is the higher than any other state in the country. Georgia TSA has more than 24,000 members, Phillips said.

“We have over 72 competitive events,” she said. “They will build airplanes that they fly, they’ll produce video games, they build robots.”

And every competition and training session prepares the students to be college and career ready, she said.

King, a junior at G.W. Carver High School in Columbus, has attended the conference at Jekyll Island for the last five years. He said the lessons TSA teaches students help prepare them for future success in STEM fields.

“I could go on and on about the endless opportunities that TSA has to offer,” he said.

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